Open letter about prof. Verbon’s Univers column

We, the undersigned members of the Tilburg University community, are deeply disturbed by professor Harrie Verbon’s column published online by the university’s independent magazine Univers on November 3.

After an opening paragraph with various questionable assertions about the evolutionary role of “alpha males,” the column asserts that movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who was recently accused by dozens of women of sexual abuse (including rape), and comedian Jimmy Savile, who was earlier accused of serious sexual assaults on many women, including children and women with a mental disability, exerted an “appeal [aantrekkingskracht] on girls and women because of their fame and success.” Therefore, professor Verbon asks, “Who is abusing whom?” The accused men are old, or dead, professor Verbon continues, and their “appeal” is almost gone, whereas: “the ‘victims’ [sic!] in the case Harvey Weinstein are usually successful women at the top of their fame, often thanks to Harvey Weinstein. To thank him, they burn him to the ground.” Professor Verbon wonders: “Why did the complaining women not address Weinstein and Savile’s behavior thirty years ago?”

Professor Verbon cites Woody Allen, of all people, to repeat the idiotic cliché that “every young man who winks at a woman should call his lawyer to defend himself.” Professor Verbon then cites a female professor from the University of Twente who notes that “explicit sexual harassment in a skewed power relation is widespread and accepted.” Professor Verbon then asserts: “I never noticed this.” Professor Verbon worries about a “witch hunt (against men!) [sic],” and concludes by calling for an end to “#metoo.”

Professor Verbon’s column is exactly the kind of reaction that discourages victims/survivors of sexual abuse from speaking up. Professor Verbon trivializes Weinstein’s egregious abuse of power as a consensual transaction, and blames the victims/survivors for the abuse. Professor Verbon trivializes the accomplishments of the women who came forward, claiming that they often owe their success to Weinstein and thus owe him gratitude. Professor Verbon fails to discuss Saville’s alleged assaults on minors and on women with a mental disability altogether. And Professor Verbon dismisses the existence of sexual harassment in the academy, which many of us have experienced or witnessed.

We call on Univers to apologize publicly for publishing this column, and to reevaluate its editorial role and policies. The editorial published Monday afternoon fails to address the substance of our concerns.

We would like to thank to Executive Board for swiftly distancing itself from professor Verbon’s column on the intranet. However, most of us had not seen this very brief announcement, nor has it been communicated to our students, many of whom were very upset by the column, for good reason. We therefore call on the administration to distance itself publicly from professor Verbon’s column in the strongest terms, in order to affirm to the entire university community that our university takes sexual harassment and abuse extremely seriously and that it is committed to ensuring a safe working and learning environment for everyone.


Alfred Archer, Assistant Professor, Philosophy (TSH)

Michael Bender, Assistant Professor, Social Psychology (TSB)

Jan Blommaert, Culture Studies (TSH)

Michiel Bot, Assistant Professor, Public Law, Legal History & Jurisprudence (TLS)

Mark Brandt, Assistant Professor, Social Psychology (TSB)

Maaike de Bruijn, Lecturer, Social Psychology (TSB)

Joanne Chung, Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Robbert Coenmans, PhD Researcher, Labour Law and Social Policy (TLS)

Elien De Caluwé, Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Jaap Denissen, Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Tony Evans, Assistant Professor, Social Psychology (TSB)

Carlo Garofalo, Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Matteo Giletta, Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Sanneke de Haan, Post-doc Researcher, Cultural Studies (TSH)

Daniela Heerdt, PhD Researcher, European and International Law (TLS)

Odile Heynders, Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Tünde van Hoek, Lecturer, Social Psychology (TSB)

Martin Hoondert, Associate Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Inge van Hulle, Assistant Professor, Public Law, Legal History & Jurisprudence (TLS)

Bastian Jaeger, PhD Researcher, Social Psychology (TSB)

Theo Klimstra, Associate Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Emiel Krahmer, Professor, Communication and Information Sciences (TSH)

Sjaak Kroon, Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Alkeline van Lenning, Professor & Dean, Liberal Arts (UCT)

Ico Maly, Culture Studies  (TSH)

Anna Marhold, Assistant Professor, Law and Economics Center (TLS)

Merijn Oudenampsen, PhD Researcher, Culture Studies (TSH)

Erdem Ozan Meral, PhD Researcher, Social Psychology (TSB)

Paul Mutsaers, Post-doc Researcher, Culture Studies (TSH)

Phillip Paiement, Assistant Professor, Public Law, Legal History & Jurisprudence (TLS)

Martine Prange, Professor, Philosophy (TSH)

Tila Pronk, Assistant Professor, Social Psychology (TSB)

Dongning Ren, Assistant Professor, Social Psychology (TSB)

Eeske van Roekel, Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology (TSB)

Maria Eleonora Sciubba (TSH)

Jenny Slatman, Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Nina Spälti, PhD Researcher, Social Psychology (TSB)

Massimiliano Spotti, Assistant Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Piia Varis, Associate Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Inge van de Ven, Assistant Professor, Culture Studies (TSH)

Fieke Wagemans, PhD Researcher, Social Psychology (TSB)


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